NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
Here is a position by position breakdown of the action from the New England Patriots 28-30 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tom Brady started the game and struggled to begin the game; Mark Barron returned a ball tipped by Ronde Barber for a touchdown. Brady had some trouble dealing with Tampa Bay’s pass rush but looked accurate overall aside from a couple of questionable decisions. Brady remained in the game into the third quarter and continued to throw the ball well despite the overall ineffectiveness of New England’s offense; he connected on a very accurate touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski with just under a minute left in the quarter. Ryan Mallett entered the game with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and looked very accurate relative to his two previous performances; Mallett connected with Jeremy Ebert on a touchdown pass to conclude his first drive. Mallett threw another touchdown with 33 seconds remaining in the game; Jesse Holley caught a rocket from Mallett on the move. Brian Hoyer did not see the field; it remains to be seen whether Mallett has improved his standing on the depth chart or whether Hoyer remains the primary backup.
Stevan Ridley returned to the starting lineup. Spencer Larsen saw the field as a fullback during the first quarter of action. Shane Vereen limped off the field in the first quarter of the game. Ridley managed to break off a big run on the next snap; following another impressive run, Ridley was able to score on a goal line attempt. Danny Woodhead entered the game in the second quarter and was utilized in the passing game. Eric Kettani received a carry from the fullback position. Stevan Ridley failed to convert a fourth-and-one but ran very hard throughout the game; at one point he utilized a devastating stiff-arm to gain a handful of extra yards. Brandon Bolden started the second half at running back; both Bolden and Ridley missed key pickups in pass protection, although Bolden improved his standing in the mid-to-late fourth quarter via a number of powerful runs. Jeff Demps saw snaps as the team’s kick returner in the mid third quarter and entered the game at running back in the middle of the fourth quarter; he broke off a big run with just under five minutes remaining. Demps also returned a punt with two minutes remaining in the game which was called back via penalty and saw some snaps as a receiving option.
Wide receivers Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney are inactive. Brandon Lloyd caught his first pass with New England, and Deion Branch made a couple of impressive plays in the second quarter as well; Branch seems to have supplanted Stallworth on the depth chart, who was a ghost during the first half of the game. Stallworth entered the game during the fourth quarter and was largely excluded from the offense; he dropped his first receiving target with 2:15 remaining but caught two subsequent passes on three targets. Jesse Holley made a diving touchdown catch at the end of the game.
Daniel Fells was active, but Visanthe Shiancoe remained inactive. Fells first entered the game as an inline blocker and missed a key block on a Danny Woodhead carry in the second quarter. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were used extensively as receiving options; Hernandez caught two passes early on the game and also saw action as a punt returner during the second quarter; Hernandez was more heavily involved in the offense than Gronkowski, although the latter caught a diving touchdown in the third quarter; Hernandez was thrown seven passes, while Gronkowski saw just two targets. Alex Silvestro dropped an accurate pass from Ryan Mallett upon entering the game but caught one later attempt. Mallett targeted Silvestro in the end zone with under a minute remaining and drew a defensive holding call.
The Patriots’ first-team offensive line consists of Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Donald Thomas, and Marcus Cannon; tonight is the first time Mankins has been active this preseason. Dan Connolly was previously playing offensive guard. Matt Kopa remains inactive. Marcus Cannon allowed Brady to be hit with a blindside sack from Michael Bennett. Dan Koppen rotated in at center during the first quarter to receive work with the first team; Ryan Wendell saw the field at center in the second quarter. Donald Thomas was flagged for a penalty in the second quarter but made some key blocks in the screen game as well. The offensive line was able to get a strong push in the run game during the first half but struggled with mental mistakes and pass protection as well. The interior offensive line at the beginning of the second half consisted of Nick McDonald at left guard, Dan Koppen at center, and Dan Connolly at right guard. Nate Solder appeared to improve on his performances over the first two preseason games, especially in pass protection.
Gerard Warren is still inactive. New England’s starting defensive line consisted of Rob Ninkovich, Kyle Love, Vince Wilfork, and Chandler Jones. Jermaine Cunningham rotated in at defensive tackle in New England’s sub package. New England utilized Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as rushers out of a two-point stance fairly regularly; Jones’ bull rush was effective, and he forced a holding penalty at one point using the move. Vince Wilfork was another force against the run. Rob Ninkovich was largely contained by Buccaneers right tackle Jeremy Trueblood while rushing the passer. Trevor Scott (LE) and Jermaine Cunningham (RE) rotated in during the fourth quarter; Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace were subbed into the game as the second-team defensive tackles; Marcus Forston entered the game shortly afterwards.
Linebacker Tracy White is inactive. The team’s starting linebackers are Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower. Brandon Spikes crushed Doug Martin on Martin’s first carry of the game after some nice defensive tackle play; Spikes continued his physical play against the run game and looked impressive in short coverage as well. Jerod Mayo was active in run support. Niko Koutouvides promptly missed two tackles after being subbed in with the second-team linebackers at the start of the fourth quarter; he was joined at linebacker by Bobby Carpenter and Jeff Tarpinian. Koutouvides missed a third tackle shortly afterwards. Dan Orlovsky targeed Carpenter on a touchdown pass to slot receiver Sammie Stroughter.
Defensive backs Will Allen, Josh Barrett, Patrick Chung, and Ross Ventrone are inactive. New England started Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, and Kyle Arrington in the defensive backfield. Vincent Jackson opened the game by gaining a ton of separation against zone coverage. McCourty later allowed another completion to Jackson in man coverage and made a questionable decision as New England’s first-team kick returner. Tavon Wilson was flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty. Nate Ebner saw extensive action on defense and appears to have surpassed James Ihedigbo on the depth chart. Marquice Cole saw extensive special teams action and received some defensive snaps as well; he made a strong case for the fifth cornerback spot by improving his coverage skills and turning in a standout performance on special teams. At the end of the second quarter, Cole dropped an interception. Steve Gregory appeared to suffer a hamstring injury in the middle of the third quarter which could leave New England shallow at safety; on the bright side, it did not seem serious. Alfonzo Dennard was subbed in at right cornerback in the fourth quarter; Sterling Moore reprised his traditional role at left cornerback. James Ihedigbo made a crushing block on two Buccaneers plays simultaneously.